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Seattle Analytic Philosophy Club Message Board › Mind and body: a contemporary overview

Mind and body: a contemporary overview

Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 292
Here is my overview of the issue. It is a contemporary overview rather than a historical one - that is, it is focused on what philosophers currently think rather than what they thought in the past. It is a bit opinionated in areas but I think that it overall reflects current thinking on the issue.

The majority of current of philosophers are physicalists. Of those who are "dualists", there are "substance" and "property" dualists. A substance dualist is someone who believes the mind is a nonphysical substance – essentially comparable to notions of a “soul”. Substance dualism may be widely held in the general public, but is very unpopular in philosophy. The substance dualists in philosophy (e.g., Swinburne) are also often theists. There could be – but there is not – empirical evidence for substance dualism – such as evidence of psychic powers. There is also a view - which I discussed in a previous meetup on free will - that substance dualism is necessary for free will. This is clearly mistaken.

Most philosophical dualists are property dualists (Chalmers is probably the best known). The mind is not a non-physical substance, it is based in a physical substance, but at some (perhaps emergent) level, it does manifest non-physical properties. By non-physical, what is often meant is just that the properties could not be studied by the methods of science (for example, an experience that only you, from a first person perspective, could understand). So this does not imply any “spooky stuff” in the world.

Property dualism typically implies epiphenomalism (the idea that mental events do not cause anything in the physical world). Mental causation is a separate topic, but it should be noted that outside of mind-brain identity, most other views have a problem in that they imply that mental events are epiphenomenal. However, this is also an advantage in that property dualism, unlike substance dualism, does not have to explain how non-physical mental events can cause physical events, because they don’t if they are epiphenomal.

There are a few philosophers (Nagel, Strawson) who embrace neutral monism, or panpsychism. I won’t comment further on this as Victor can say more about it. It is definitely a minority view.

I do not know of any serious contemporary philosophers of mind who are idealists.
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 293
So why are the majority of philosophers physicalists? A contention during the last meetup was that there wasn’t any definite evidence that the mind was based in the brain. We didn’t discuss this at much length, but there is overwhelming evidence that the mind is based in the brain. This is the millions of cases in which brain abnormalities alter the mind. The neuroscientist Daniel Bor (author of the recent book on consciousness The Ravenous Brain - which I highly recommend) tells this anecdote. Bor was planning on getting a PhD in philosophy of mind. He had been studying arguments that consciousness was nonphysical (see below). But then his father had a stroke which altered his consciousness dramatically. Bor states that after seeing firsthand what a physical event (a stroke) could do to consciousness, arguments that consciousness is non-physical just seemed hollow, and he abandoned philosophy to study neuroscience. So we have this sort of evidence, multiplied millions of times.

Now while mental events are certainly very strongly correlated with brain events, are mental events just brain events? This is a lot more controversial. Certainly, the inference to the best explanation would be that given the extreme degree of correlation, the mind just is the brain. However, if the mind just is the brain, then those who do not have a brain cannot have mental events in the way we have them. So for example, aliens with completely different biology or machines could not be conscious in the way we are. So another view is that the mental is “multiply realizable” in different physical substrates. This is called functionalism. An analogy is software and hardware. Software (the mind) can run on different hardware platforms (the brain, alien biology, computers). The software however, is where the action is - the mind (software) clearly depends upon the hardware, but at the same time runs on a level in some sense separate from the hardware. For example, if you wanted to understand a software program, you would look at the code, rather than open up the hardware case. So the mind is based in the brain, in us, but could be based in silicon also. So the primary competing physicalist views are functionalism and mind-brain identity. This has strong implications for the scientific study of consciousness, because while every scientist studying consciousness agrees that the brain in humans is necessary for consciousness, the question is where consciousness is actually realized. If you think consciousness is realized in the brain (e.g., Koch's gamma neuronal synchrony), this implies mind-brain identity - and you study the hardware. On the other hand if one thinks that consciousness is dependent upon the brain but is actually realized on a non-neuronal level (such as Baar's global workspace, Tononi's information integration, or the higher order thought theories), these imply functionalism and studying the software code.

So why might someone believe that the mind is nonphysical, outside of religious considerations to adopt substance dualism? The standard philosophical arguments for nonphysicalism are the knowledge argument, the conceivability of zombies, and the explanatory gap (which is closely related to so-called “hard problem” of consciousness). Space precludes any discussion here, but these arguments essentially say that there is something epistemologically different about the mind - consciousness in particular - (which many physicalists would agree with, but someone like Dennett would deny) and that this implies that consciousness is ontologically different – i.e, not physical. The second step (going from epistemology to ontology) is one that physicalists would deny. For example, even if one were to agree that consciousness is difficult to understand fully from a scientific perspective, why isn’t this just a function of the way our minds work, and why does a problem in understanding something fully imply that the thing is ontologically different? It may not be obvious intuitively that the mind is the brain, but isn’t this like any scientific identity that we discover after the fact – e.g., that water is H20?
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 294
The last position I will discuss is what is often called "eliminativism". These views typically imply that some aspect of mentality, perhaps "folk" psychological ideas such as beliefs and desires, or conscious states, might be eliminated. By eliminated it is it typically meant removed from use in serious informed discourse. Eliminativism is not seriously considered by most today but used more as a contrast to other positions.

Daniel Dennett is often thought to advocate a sort of eliminativism, but is probably best understood as a behaviorist or verificationist. His essential argument is that aspects of the mind that cannot be understood from the third-person perspective simply make no difference. It is not that these aspects (such as supposed intrinsic features of conscious experience) don't exist in the ontological sense, it is that it makes no difference whether or not they exist so we shouldn't talk about it. . For example, if we take a professional coffee taster who thinks that the taste (experience or qualia) of coffee has changed, and another taster who agrees that something is different but argues that the taste is the same but his preferences have changed, we have no way of determining who is right. So there is no point about talking about first person experience (qualia) because it simply never makes any difference to any way of testing it.

A better use of the term eliminativism might apply to the views of Patricia Churchland. Churchland believes the mind just is the brain, but that many of our current "folk" psychological concepts will not survive this finding. The idea being that neuroscience will better explain things than folk psychology, so we might abandon folk psychology talk of say, beliefs and desires. So a mind-brain identity theorist would say that a belief just is a brain state. Churchland would agree that the mind just is the brain, but that a belief might be like a discredited scientific concept, say ether or phlogiston. Phlogiston does not reduce to anything because it never existed, similarly some of our psychological states we think we have may not reduce to brain states because they don't exist to begin with.

So of the positions noted above, functionalism has been the most popular position in the philosophy of mind for a long time. Mind-brain identity has been more seriously considered in recent times in parallel with the increase in scientific research on consciousness. Property dualism is the third position that has a reasonable number of adherents in philosophy but is certainly less popular than the physicalist views.
Jon C.
JonCohen
Mercer Island, WA
Post #: 138
This is a well written summary of many of the major positions, but I think omits consideration of a class of actively practicing philosophers who take positions whose implications are so radically different from the ones listed here that this type of philosophy is no longer conducive to their work. There are several positions within this ontology where various theists might appear, but once one reaches such a conclusion, the implications of that belief is that work is better done within the framework of theology, which can actually be considered a branch of philosophy. The number of practicing theologists is of course huge, considering that many people employed in the practice of religion could be considered as such, and their number is probably much larger than the number of atheist or agnostic philosophers referenced here.

In my opinion, a number of these positions are simply where one is forced to go in order to maintain a belief in atheism and still try to explain the phenomenon of the mind. Of course identifying the mind with some aspect of God does not solve the problem entirely, but it does reduce the number of unexplained phenomena. What I mean is that the existence of the physical world and the nature of the mind can be considered as two distinct major mysteries, but an explanation that both have a common origin means there is just one mystery, which is the nature of God. A major reason for myself reaching that conclusion is that in my opinion the position of epiphenomenalism of the mind is simply not tenable. Once one concludes that the mind can have an influence on the physical world, that immediately raises the question of how large an effect a mind could have, if it was not constrained to a human brain. I think there are many scientists that consider panpyschism a reasonable position, and so one is lead to consider the possibility of the existence of a mind at the cosmological level. Thus a various serious possibility of the existence of God can be reached through logical conclusions of the known facts.

In light of that, some of the claims made in Gene's post, such as that there there are no serious idealists, or that free will is clearly mistaken, are not justified.



Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 296


In light of that, some of the claims made in Gene's post, such as that there there are no serious idealists, or that free will is clearly mistaken, are not justified.


I did not say that free will is clearly mistaken, nothing of the sort. I said that the idea that free will depends on substance dualism being true is clearly mistaken (this view is not held by any philosophers specializing in free will, but some scientists seem to think that if they can show substance dualism is false, free will doesn't exist - it is this view that is mistaken).

Also, I did not say that there are no serious idealists. I said that there are no current "serious" philosophers of mind are idealists. There may be philosophers who take idealism seriously (who they are I would like to know) but they don't specialize in philosophy of mind, or they are so poorly published that I haven't heard of them (in which case I don't take them seriously).

Substance dualism should be independent of theism or atheism in theory, although in practice it tends to be related to theism. In philosophy the arguments should stand on their own without needing an appeal to either a priori naturalism or theism.

I didn't want to comment too much on mental causation above with is a separate issue. However, if the mind is identical to the brain, there is no problem with epiphenomalism because the mental events simply are brain events, so there is no issue of how mental events can cause brain events. It is the theories besides mind-brain identity such as property dualism and even functionalism to an extent that have an issue with epiphenomalism because if mental events are something else than identical to brain events, then you have overcausation because brain events would be caused by both brain events and mental events - so unless you think every brain event has a dual cause, it is not clear what role mental events are playing, hence epiphenomalism.

You are correct that analytic philosophy in the form practiced by the majority of contemporary philosophers of mind typically does not include theological concerns. But as this is an analytic philosophy club that is what I wrote about, and I'm not qualified to comment on theology in any case.
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 297
. There are several positions within this ontology where various theists might appear, but once one reaches such a conclusion, the implications of that belief is that work is better done within the framework of theology, which can actually be considered a branch of philosophy. The number of practicing theologists is of course huge, considering that many people employed in the practice of religion could be considered as such, and their number is probably much larger than the number of atheist or agnostic philosophers referenced here.

In my opinion, a number of these positions are simply where one is forced to go in order to maintain a belief in atheism and still try to explain the phenomenon of the mind. Of course identifying the mind with some aspect of God does not solve the problem entirely, but it does reduce the number of unexplained phenomena.


Jon,

We actually had a recent meetup on intelligent design (attended by numerous people from the Discovery Institute here in Seattle). where I discussed the difference between a priori naturalism, and a posteriori naturalism. You say that a number of these positions are where one is forced to go to mantain a belief in atheism. There may certainly be a priori naturalists who are committed to naturalism (in some sense naturalism could be said to be their religion), and this might lead them to certain physicalist views of the mind. But this is not in general the way that analytic philosophers think. When I studied philosophy I could not in general tell the religious views of my professors, and although some philosophers (like Dennett) are outspoken atheists, I don't know the religious views of most philosophers of mind from their writings. In a posteriori naturalism, one adopts naturalism because it had worked so well in the past, but importantly, this does not commit one to naturalism, it simply means that one needs overwhelming evidence to posit supernatural explanations (in the Bayesian framework the preteset priors for natural explanations are very high). So the pieces of evidence a physicalist might use in philosophy of mind would be the overwhelming evidence of a correlation between the brain and the mind, along with the idea that the physical world is casually closed (this is arrived at via a posteriori reasoning based on the evidence of our senses and the history of science). None of this requires any a priori commitment to atheism or naturalism.

See my discussion of this topic here if you are interested.

http://www.meetup.com...­

I elaborate on a well-known ID blog after the meetup.

http://www.uncommonde...­

Jon C.
JonCohen
Mercer Island, WA
Post #: 139

In philosophy the arguments should stand on their own without needing an appeal to either a priori naturalism or theism.

There are a set of philosophical arguments where theism is taken as a priori, and those arguments are naturally grouped together under theology, along with arguments about whether or not God exists. My point here is that theism is often an outcome of one's theory of mind, and so I am not taking theism as a priori.

As to what is a serious philosopher is debatable also. I have a hard time in particular taking Dennett seriously. Metzinger also seems to believe that our thinking that we have a mind is some sort of a mistake, which would be a plausible argument except that we can all see that we do in fact have a mind. So while they fit into philosophy socially and seem to write in a serious manner, I think their positions cannot be taken seriously since their theories are falsified by obvious facts. People who are atheist probably have a similar opinion of theistic philosophers.

Within the field of theology, there is a lot of formal debate over free will for example, but the rules of discourse seem quite different because the evidence that is accepted in that field is quite different from outside. To an atheist that evidence would seem as nonsensical as the idea that the mind is identical to the brain does to me.
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 298

In philosophy the arguments should stand on their own without needing an appeal to either a priori naturalism or theism.
.

As to what is a serious philosopher is debatable also. I have a hard time in particular taking Dennett seriously. Metzinger also seems to believe that our thinking that we have a mind is some sort of a mistake, which would be a plausible argument except that we can all see that we do in fact have a mind. So while they fit into philosophy socially and seem to write in a serious manner, I think their positions cannot be taken seriously since their theories are falsified by obvious facts. People who are atheist probably have a similar opinion of theistic philosophers.

.

Dennett is no longer active in the field, and if you look at the recent professional literature (in the past 5 or 10 years or so) you will find that very few philosophers address his work. As I mentioned in the initial post, eliminativism was never a position that was taken seriously by a wide swath of the profession, it was a held by a tiny minority and largely used a contrastive argument to other positions so it is hardly represenative of philosophical work.

As for Metzinger, his arguments are related to the self rather than the mind in general. One value that analytic philosophy has it that is very careful to define and separate topics which are different, which can lead to better analysis. For example, in discussions of the mind, we can talk about topics such as intentionality, phenomenal consciousness, access consciousness, unity of consciousness, personal identity and so on are discussed separately, whereas in the "popular" discussion theyare often conflated which just leads to everyone talking about different topics but not really realizing it. Free will is typically considered a different area than philosophy of mind (e.g., the philosophers who specialize in free will don't do philosophy of mind, and vice-versa).

By serious I simply mean someone who has the standard credentials. So a serious philosopher of mind would be someone who has a PhD, specializes in philosphy of mind, teaches courses on the topic, and publishes on the topic in good peer reviewed journals. If there is any meeting these criteria who is an idealist, I am not aware of it.

I don't see how substance dualism would lead to theism by direct argument. If one is lead by philosophical argumentation to believe that there are non-physical metaphysical substances in the world, this might support theism if one is already inclined to theism, but I'm not sure what the direct argument would be for theism.
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 299
. I think there are many scientists that consider panpyschism a reasonable position, and so one is lead to consider the possibility of the existence of a mind at the cosmological level. Thus a various serious possibility of the existence of God can be reached through logical conclusions of the known facts.


Which scientists consider panpsychism a reasonable position? Victor can say more about panpsychism, but I take it to be the position that mentality is part of the basic elements of what exists, so we would have fermions, bosons, and mentality. One way this view is different is that it denies that mentality is an emergent phenomenon. There is not, to my knowledge, any scientific evidence for panpsychism. So if any scientists think panpsychism is a reasonable position, are they lead to this by scientific considerations, or other arguments? So I'm not sure how scientists taking panpsychism seriously (again, we need some names) is an argument in favor of panpsychism, because it if is not arrived at by standard scientific reasoning, it is just outside their field of expertise.
Jon C.
JonCohen
Mercer Island, WA
Post #: 140
I just finished reading a book by Giulio Tononi, which is reviewed here: http://philosophyandp...­ I agree with the reviewer that Tononi comes across as a panpsychist. Tonini is a psychiatrist and neuroscientist.

According to the following description, Kristoph Koch sounds quite similar to Tononi.
http://footnotes2plat...­

Both of those scientists have focused their career on this topic, but Koch seems to have stayed away from the panpsychism aspect of the topic while he was working with Crick. I also am not aware of any actual evidence for panpsychism, just as there is no scientific evidence to refute solipsism.

Whether mentality exists like fermions and bosons is clouded by the mysterious nature of fermions and bosons. At the fundamental level, they are described as particular modes of vibration in associated quantum fields. The only thing particle-like about them is that when there is an interaction, the interaction is describable as originating at a point source. Other than that, the field exists in a superposition of states of apparently infinite complexity in any finite volume.

It seems to me natural to suppose that mentality is describable by a mathematical field, albeit one very different from the known physical fields. That is also different from what Tononi and Koch describe as phi, which is more of a formula for predicting how much consciousness would be found to be correlated with a given configuration of computational elements. Both of these approaches would describe the properties mentality from the outside. When you think about say electrons, even the most accurate possible theory of electrons cannot produce actual electrons. So even an exact theory of neural correlates of consciousness would not explain where consciousness comes from, just as we cannot explain where the electron field comes from.
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